What I like about him
"It's so internal!" my friend Amanda says with admiration about Neil Greenberg's "Really Queer Dance with Harps," which premiered a couple of weeks ago at Dance Theater Workshop. One move--a series of changements on half-point--reminded her of a schizophrenic she'd seen outside a hospital in Rome jangling his insides with stiff little jumps.
The insides of Greenberg's dancers are not at risk: they inhabit
a whorl of trunk as sturdy as a tree's. But
their bare galumphing feet--smacking the floor exactly as you're taught not to in ballet class--resound with social ineptitude and a
rough flamboyance. They call to mind Frankenstein's
monster (on a good day).
Meanwhile, the arms are socially aware--grace notes of affect, as are the flowers in the hair of boys and girls alike. Fragility and delicacy, self-declaration and tribal identification, flutter on the body's periphery as if the soul and its accessories were butterflies. In one of "Really Queer Dance's" several distinct phrases, one hand grazes the vulnerable crease in the hip where an angel forced Jacob to testify, while the other reaches overhead like a weather vane or the paw of a disco queen feeling out the scene.
Only the gaze enters the world naked--shed of inwardness. Or it tries to, anyway. Eyes askew in the head and head askew on the spine as if the effort caused all sorts of distortions, the dancers peer at the wall of darkness that separates us from them without recognition, or seduction, in the look.
You know those people who find fault with one lover after
another for years on end without it ever occurring to them that the problem
might lie with their conception of love? Well, the dance equivalent is the false notion that dance is the most unmediated of arts, the
least artful of arts, a quasi-art that delivers its truths straight. People who
insist they really do like dance, it's only a matter of finding the right dance, are often seeking sheer physicality! sheer feeling! sheer
pleasure! But precisely because dance
is physical, which, yes, is tangled
up in our minds with pleasure and feeling, it can't only be physical, emotional,
pleasurable, or it wouldn't be art, it would just be body, feeling, sensation. On the other hand, it has no choice but to present even introspection on the surface. All it has is surface, which does double duty as inside and out.
Greenberg homes in on this poignant paradox, which, he discovers, life shares with dance. His subject is invariably an inner life that we can only approach via surfaces--an inner life made up, in fact, of surfaces, the detritus of the everyday.
"Really Queer Dance with Harps" may be no more inward than previous dances--as usual, each dancer is alone with others, never touching (until the goofy coda) and never acknowledging anyone in any conventional sense, and as usual the dancers share a family of gestures that means something particular to each of them. But here those family members are especially individual. (The eight highly trained, wonderfully idiosyncratic dancers are Ellen Barnaby, Nicholas Duran, Johnni Durango, Christine Elmo, Paige Martin, Luke Miller, Antonio Ramos, and Colin Stilwell.)
Until recently, Greenberg devised his choreography on his own body, videotaping himself improvising, then editing what he saw for his dancers' consumption. For "Really Queer Dance with Harps" and its companion on the program, the equally glorious though short "Quartet with Three Gay Men," he decided to have the dancers invent most of the phrases. The effect is to intensify the scene's casual-seeming, non-syncopated character. The phrases seem more than ever like floating idées fixes, snagging on a person like a plastic bag on a rosebush. Sometimes they become assimilated into her style of being, and sometimes they don't.
"Really Queer Dance with Harps" is low key and in no hurry. The movement has more feeling and lusciousness than the Cunningham vocabulary it grew out of. (At this juncture, too many of Cunningham's dancers treat steps as if they were a task assigned them, above which they can smile at each other unbothered. Cunningham should ask them to commit all of themselves to what they're doing.) And three golden harpists massage Zeena Parkins' mercurial music into their heart-shaped harps to call to mind the heart. But the dance does share Cunningham's aversion to the conventional dramatic arc--and the present he lets you sink into and pull back from again and again.
In this, it's like life, too.
For more, here's the
esteemed Roslyn Sulcas' excellent review for the New York Times and my friend Nancy Dalva's Danceviewtimes post. For the full monty of previews and views, try Dance Theater Workshop's web site (which has failed to include this blog as well as danceviewtimes, for example, on
its blog roll. Sigh. Why even have a blog roll if it's so strictly self-serving?)
Photo by Julia Cervantes for Dance Theater Workshop.
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Joe Horowitz on music
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary